24 February 2015

Zax ByPass

I wish I had more time to blog.
I always find it therapeutic and it seems that a handful of you actually enjoy reading Hoosier Happenings as well.  The last several weeks have found me steeped in new responsibilities to which I've tried to throw myself at wholeheartedly so combined with work, something had to give.  But I saw a post on Facebook last night concerning community development that prompted this recollection of a story by the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, and maybe sums up a great deal of my experiences in these first few weeks........and honestly, seems like a reflection on nearly the last "fifty-nine years" as we stand here in the prairie of Prax beneath the Zax ByPass.  Let's hope for an off-ramp and begin to pull in the same direction, together, because the world isn't going to stand still-it will grow.  Lately it's been growing around and without us.

The Zax by Dr. Seuss

One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.

And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped.  There they stood.
Foot to foot.  Face to face.

"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said.  "I say!
You are blocking my path.  You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"

"Who's in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax.
"I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you're in MY way!  And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove."

Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.
"I never," he said, "take a step to one side.
And I'll prove to you that I won't change my ways
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!"

"And I'll prove to YOU," yelled the South-Going Zax,
"That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years!  For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge!  That's my rule.  Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west!  Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging!  I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"

Of course the world didn't stand still.  The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.

07 January 2015

Cowles Bog at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

My appreciation for the Indiana dunes began several years ago when researching the early preservation movement in the dunes region, headed up by notable folks like Jens Jensen, and stand-out botanist Dr. Henry Cowles of Chicago who completed pioneering work in ecology in the dunes.  While I haven't extensively explored the dunes area (outside of the state park), I have enjoyed a few hikes in the area.  Recently a buddy and I hiked the trail through Cowles Bog, one of the most ecologically significant areas of the dunes and named for the good doctor who helped place it on the map.

The bog is estimated to be about 8,000 years old and is described as a "fen" or marsh area covered with mosses and sedges.  The bog was named a National Natural Landmark in 1965, about the time the National Lakeshore was created.  In 1913, Dr. Cowles headed up an international excursion to the bog, attended by scientists from around the world who came to witness one of the most ecologically-diverse areas in the United States, only behind Yellowstone Park and the giant redwoods area of California.

Yep-right here in Indiana.

31 December 2014


I had a long conversation this week with a young man who is trying to reconcile the traditions of Christmas with his Christian faith.  He's taken it to heart and has pages of notes from his research on the origins of Christmas as the holiday we observe.  He became very serious and asked me "what do you think of Christmas?"  Not exactly sure what he was getting at, I said, "well, it's over-commercialized, and of course, it wasn't when Christ was actually born."  More than a half hour later we parted and I mentioned that I had this post rolling around in my head and that our conversation encouraged me to frame it a little differently.

Now this isn't going to be a "put Christ back in Christmas" post, nor is it about the idea the holiday has been hijacked by retailers.  In looking for the true spirit of the celebration, in an aspect of the Christian faith that truly should be celebrated, I wonder if we've let the hype steal what could be, and I think was, one of the most meaningful emotions of the season.  Have we lost the feeling of anticipation?

From the time the angel appeared to Mary, then Joseph, the anticipation of the Christ was nurtured by these two individuals who God chose to reveal his plan of salvation and reconciliation of the fractured world.  And when Mary gave birth, the angels carried that message of hope to shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, who hurried with anticipation to see this savior-child.  And some time later, having been revealed to magi, these wise men followed a star in anticipation to see who they knew had been foretold in ancient prophecies.  What would be next for Jesus?  His father and mother must have wondered, and then the young men He gathered to His side must have felt such great anticipation in their hearts as Christ healed the sick, made the lame to walk, and opened blind eyes.  And when all hope must have seemed lost on Golgotha, imagine the anxious hearts when they learned the stone had been rolled away.  What great feeling of wonder and anticipation must have filled those with whom Jesus had walked the streets of Jerusalem.

Christmas Eve at the 'ol homestead
When I was a kid, I know full well what the root of anticipation was for Christmas.  Presents.  However, as I grew older into my teens I began to recognize something else about this time of the year.  The warmth of family and friends, the simple joy of being together....and rest from the long year behind.  Growing up in a non-traditional church, I felt more "enlightened" without the trappings of liturgy found in more traditional congregations.  Advent sounded like ritual, which of course must be far from the heart of God.  But as I consider these things today, I wonder if ritual and tradition shouldn't bring our hearts back to the feeling of anticipation for what the meaning of Christ's birth is to this world.

Christmas Eve is my most favorite point on the calender.  There seems to be an almost palatable feeling of peace that envelopes the world around us.  I can walk through our house and feel warmth, hope, and peace in a way that is hard to put into words, but I am sure you understand what I am attempting to convey.  And maybe it is the lights on the tree, or the traditions of family before me that pull my heart to that place.  But from my late teens until now-it has been the most sacred of times as I consider the sacrifice, born in a manger, that brings hope to the world.

Frankly, I don't know that I care that the Church landed on December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ eons ago.  To me, it is less about celebrating a day than it is about celebrating what the coming of Christ as a baby means to the Christian faith.  I choose to celebrate, with anticipation, what God has already prepared for me in the year ahead.  So in that vein, celebrating at this point on the calender makes perfect sense.  Redirecting our hearts and thoughts during this time should start with the feeling of anticipation borne out of reflecting on the blessings God has provided in this last year and looking forward to fulfilling His calling on our hearts in the year ahead.

This isn't a post about the appropriateness of Christmas trees or lights, or greenery or Santa.  And it isn't about deciding how many gifts cross the line from making this Christmas commercialized or not.  Maybe this is a call to re-frame our thinking at this time of the year to that of anticipation.  Block out the noise and don't worry about whether or not a manger scene is on the courthouse lawn, don't try to make the story of Christ's birth more hip with clever sermon titles or cute phrases.  Just share it and ask yourself the pointed question for the year ahead, "am I living in anticipation of the Savior of the world?"

17 December 2014

Peace on Earth

One of the most quoted scriptures during Advent is the message the angles carried to shepherds tending their flocks outside Bethlehem:  Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men."

Two thousand years later, while some still hope for peace, it seems an elusive concept in so much of the world.  And where violence doesn't shadow the hope of peace, the busy-ness of life, angst, greed, and what-have-you tends to steal the peace that is ours for the asking.  We must only seek it in the One whose coming was wrapped in its message.  Too often, in many churches, we don't even bother with the hope for peace, much less in being peacemakers as is found in the Beatitudes, because we feel somehow the reality of sin and our disconnection with those who do not profess Christ, provides a waiver from our responsibility to this world.  A world that needs to know the peace of God....I should hope that we're not so broken a vessel to carry that message.

For a few generations the words "Peace on Earth" hung near the top of my grandfather's barn.  His family, who left the Amish church, did not know war until he served in the Pacific theater during World War II.  Was it any wonder after his service ended that he should have that message proclaimed from on high?  When the farm left the family, my mom noticed the words had disappeared from the barn, so she stopped and asked the owner if he had kept them.  He did, and they found their way to our home.

About 10 years ago we used the words, and our kids, to send the message of "peace on earth" on our Christmas cards.  When we arrived in the country, I think my mom thought they'd be placed on our barn.  Instead, we had the perfect place for them inside our home and they stand as a constant reminder of what our responsibility is in this world:  agents of peace, peacemakers, as we've been called to.  I think that means giving up our rights, or the need to be right, in so many circumstances.  I think it means finding ways to get people talking with each other, to work toward compromise and understanding.  It means speaking less, and listening more, and being more inclusive in how we go about doing our Father's will.

So, in this week leading up to Christmas, let's determine to find an inward peace and contentment and then in the year before us, let's commit to being peacemakers, healers if you will, to the broken world around us.

10 December 2014

Michigan City: Vision to Capitalize on its History

1869 bird's-eye view of Michigan City, the Michigan Road is the main angled street not conforming to the grid
 A few years ago I met one of Michigan City's movers and shakers while developing the Historic Michigan Road Byway.  The guy had a vision for how Michigan City could reinvent itself and capitalize on its history and location on Lake Michigan.  Working with the redevelopment commission, an aggressive plan was put into action which would seek to list a major swath of the city into three National Register districts.  The city went from 0 districts to 3 in three years, the last being listed this year, in the hope that economic development would follow.

The Warren Building, under redevelopment as the new Artspace project
And it has.  Significant tax credit projects are being developed, or are under construction, that took advantage of the benefit of having the districts listed on the Register.  But the vision went far beyond just preserving old buildings-it has included the concept for creating a central arts district in the historic downtown, advocating for keeping the South Shore running through the downtown, despite efforts to reroute it.  And the vision better connects the lakefront to the downtown.  Investment in near east and west side residential districts has seen a general improvement of the neighborhoods, making them a more desirable place to live with easy access to new businesses opening up in the downtown.
First Congregational Church, 1881, on Washington Street
In 1831 Isaac Elston of Crawfordsville, Indiana purchased the land that would become Michigan City from the State of Indiana.  A year later he platted the town of Michigan City.  The new town was platted at the location surveyed by the State of Indiana in 1829 as the northern terminus of the Michigan Road, though the road was not constructed through LaPorte County until 1834.  The road connected Madison, on the Ohio River, with what was believed would be the best harbor on Lake Michigan for the state.  The mouth of Trail Creek at Lake Michigan was thought to offer an adequate harbor although only small boats were able to moor until improvements were made in the harbor between 1836 and 1852.  The first settlers arrived in 1833 and by 1836 over 3,000 people lived in Michigan City.  By 1880 the population was over 7,000 and it more than doubled to 14,850 by 1900.

The former Zorn Brewery complex, c. 1870, in the Elston Grove District
The three districts include Elston Grove, named by the town's founder, on the east side of the downtown from Michigan (Road) Street to Pine Street.  The Franklin Street District is the historic central commercial corridor once revamped as one of those nasty 1970s pedestrian malls, but now the heart of the arts district.  The third district is the Haskell-Barker District on the downtown's west side, stretching to the street bordering the outlet mall, and named for the former train car manufacturer in the city.  The three districts, combined, now have nearly 600 buildings that are eligible to receive rehabilitation tax credits.  The two most promising large projects include the Warren Building, an Artspace studio/residential venture in the downtown, and the former Zorn Brewery on the old Michigan Road, which is being considered for an upscale spa.

This is what happens when a community rallies around its historic resources = economic development.

03 December 2014

Sweitzer Barn on the Van Reed Farm, Warren County

Levi Van Reed House, Warren County
 I had the great fortune of writing a National Register nomination for the Levi Van Reed farm of Warren County, Indiana. Here is a little history of the family and what makes the farm unique. The Van Reed family moved to Pine Township, organized in 1830, when they purchased this property in 1856.  It's unclear if Levi Van Reed constructed the house or other buildings on the property given his former occupation in Mississippi as a carpenter.  Van Reed was elected to the board of Warren County Commissioners in 1867.  He served one three-year term, after which he retired to his farm.  His wife Amelia died in 1873 and Levi died in 1877.  Both are buried in the cemetery that the Barto family, from whom they purchased the farm, established in the 1830s.  The cemetery is located southeast of the farmstead and is known as the Van Reed cemetery due to the number of Van Reed family interments at the cemetery.

Sweitzer barn on the Van Reed farm
After Levi’s death the farming operations were carried out by his sons John and Levi, Jr.  The vast estate was divided among Levi’s living children, each receiving hundreds of acres.  Levi Van Reed, Jr. inherited the family farmstead which included 240 acres on either side of Old U.S. 41.  Levi Van Reed, Jr. was born in 1860, likely at the farmstead.  In 1895, the Levi Van Reed, Jr. family retired from farming and moved to Williamsport where they were involved in other business interests.

Spoon mold on the farm.....just kidding, what a great splash block design!
The barn is a great example of a type of German bank barn known as a Sweitzer barn.  Its origins are decidedly Pennsylvanian, like those of the Van Reed family.  It is the only example of a Sweitzer barn and one of only three bank barns in the county .  The size and quality of construction of the barn relate to the prosperity realized by the Van Reed family’s agricultural pursuits.  The barn has four bays and is considered large for the time period and region in which it was constructed.  German bank barns are divided into two types:  Pennsylvania and Sweitzer.  In a Pennsylvania barn, the peak is centered on the gable while the Sweitzer barn's ridge is off-centered, like that of old salt-box style homes of New England.  These are pretty rare in Indiana, and the Van Reed barn has an impressive charm sitting in the pasture on the edge of a rolling hill.  The house is an impressive example of Greek Revival style architecture, with some Italianate influence, all neatly apportioned to an I-house.  The farm was a great save by Indiana Landmarks.

26 November 2014

Saybrooke or Starbucks?

So I'm trying to embrace by English roots now that I've learned my DNA results and I'm a great deal more English than German, and even less so-Irish.  I've been running down several branches of my family tree and one that has eluded me is that of the Chapman family who moved into Marshall County during the 1840s.  We've heard stories of Dr. Clarke Chapman, who graduated from LaPorte Medical School and rode horseback from his farm north of Argos to make house calls.  And through research we found that his father, Ezekiel, lived in Argos as well.  And the most fabled of family lore, was that Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman was a cousin who visited their farm.  That never quite added up, but I had always hit a brick wall with any information earlier than Ezekiel, who lived in New York state.

But in my recent research I was able to connect a more senior Ezekiel to my Indiana pioneer, which led to a third Ezekiel in Connecticut, which led to the Chapmans of Saybrooke, Connecticut, who founded the town in 1635.  Robert I came to America in 1635 from England and founded the town, his son, Robert II, and grandson, Robert III, lived and died in the New England town.  The founder's grave is now unmarked, but his son's grave, my great x9 grandfather, is still marked with a stone that has one of the region's famously carved designs-a stylized primitive angel.  I shared the photo with a friend and he immediately responded that it looked like the Starbuck's logo.  Huh...kinda.  I found   that most Chapmans trace their roots to Robert I, likely Johnny Appleseed does too....but I haven't found that yet.  Several more interesting stories have surfaced as well, but yet a few ancestors continue to elude me.

On this Thanksgiving eve, as I delved into the richness of our country's history reaching back to its foundations, I wonder what we are leaving in our wake.  What will those who come after us say of our generation?  For nearly 400 years we built, cleared, prospered and can be truly thankful for much.  But for what will the generations that follow be thankful to our generation?  I hope it's more than limitless Starbucks.

19 November 2014

Hagel des Vaterlandes

St. Stephens Cemetery, Dearborn County, IN
 And this is why I was surprised by my less-than-overwhelming German DNA results.

I took my mom and her sister on a whirlwind genealogical tour across the U.S. 6 corridor in three northern Indiana counties a few weeks ago.  In preparation for the trip, I plugged a few names of ancestors into findagrave.com.  Yes, it is for-real.  I knew that my great x3 grandfather had been born in Bavaria and came with his parents to the United States in the 1830s, first settling in Dearborn County, Indiana.  Jacob Ewald followed the love of his life to northern Indiana, while his parents and several siblings remained in Dearborn County.  I did not know where his parents were buried, so I plugged in their names and found that the cemetery was just off the beaten path to Madison, which is where my wife and I were planning to spend our anniversary.

My wife capturing a moment of me paying respect to distant family
Knowing my wife now expects to visit cemeteries on all of our family trips, I of course didn't want to disappoint her.  On our way back from Madison, we crossed county lines and went to St. Stephen's Old Church Cemetery.  Although we couldn't find Jacob's parents' stones, we did find two siblings that had died as children in the 1850s.  The stones were inscribed in German.

All of the stones in this little cemetery were inscribed in German.

All of them.

In my travels and historical research, this was a first for me.  I've been in burial grounds where a few stones were in Yiddish, German, and Greek.  One cemetery near Chesterton has several stones with inscriptions in Swedish.  But I had yet to come across a truly German enclave, like this St. Stephens community must have been for my ancestors.  I did a brief investigation of the history of the church and cemetery and could only find that the church began in about 1842 and that this township in Dearborn County had begun to be settled by "industrious" German immigrants during the middle 1800s.  My Ewald ancestors being among them.
Believed to be a tintype picture of Phillip Ewald, my great x4 grandfather, immigrant from Bavaria
In driving the winding, hilly roads to their resting place, and as I peered out across the broad green valley, I wondered if this felt like home to them.  I wondered how Phillip, the patriarch, felt leaving the rest of his family behind.  No wonder the small group of German Lutherans clung together upon reaching the new land.  The Ewald line represents my family's most recent arrivals to this country.  These Germans continued to carry their language with them, first to St. Joseph County and then to Bremen in Marshall County, where a large German population also settled.  They continued the use of their language into the 1900s with sermons preached in the language of their Vaterland.

12 November 2014

The Results are IN!

Inspired by the PBS program "Finding Your Roots", and trying to resolve an internal debate about some family lore, I simply asked for a DNA kit from Ancestry.com for my birthday this year.  A vile full of spit and a few weeks later, my ancestral-origin profile arrived.

My grandfather, sometimes with seriousness, and other times in jest, claimed that we had Native American blood.  In my genealogical research, I haven't found that native link-but some lines got blurred in Virginia, so I thought it was possible.  When grandpa had us grandkids "on the hook" he'd tell us we were part Blackfoot, to which he'd take off his sock and show us the bottom of his dirty foot.  That should have clued me in.  More believable was his story that he knew that the first to carry our name in the New World arrived with his brothers from Ireland way back.  This didn't add up to what became pretty overwhelming probability that the first of my namesake came from Germany during the Revolution, and dropped the "t" from his name so that it sounded more Anglicized.

Plight of the Spanish Armada
Then there was this little matter of my paternal grandmother, who was a Bryant, and her lineage came up through Kentucky in the 1830s.  Family tradition is that we were "Black Irish".  Never heard that term?  Black Irish is a term used for people with darker complexions and hair from the Emerald Isle, and at least one theory suggests they were descended from survivors of the Spanish Armada that wrecked off the coast of Ireland.  BUT at the first inaugural family reunion in 2012, my aunt, the eldest member of that family unit, brought a photo album of the Bryants and some family members appeared so dark-skinned, that we wondered if the black in Black Irish, might have actually been, well,  Black and Irish.  My aunt quickly closed the photo album.

Destruction of the Armada
So there was a part of me that thought my regions of origin could have looked like a smorgasbord of ethnic groups.  Based on my research though, I thought it would be more likely that about 50% or more would be German, and the remaining but likely minority amount would be English-Irish.  Have I built up the suspense enough?

Yup, about as Anglo as they come.
How about 49% English-Scottish and 34% German-Alsace region.  The remaining amount included only 2% Irish (say what?) which was as much as the percentage of Eastern European Jew.  I don't know that the last surprised me.  I did get a full 6% of Iberian peninsula, which could relate back to the whole Black Irish-minus the Irish evidently.  Well, I'm about as white as they come...a friend said I'd get lost in a snowstorm.  How boring.  I have to rethink the concept that the first of my namesake dropped the "t" and that maybe some aspect of Gramp's story was true-just not Ireland, more like England.  Geesh, England's never really even held any fascination for me.  S'pose I'll have to follow the Royals now.

05 November 2014

It's Official!

Many thanks to everyone who has believed in me, supported me, and continues to stand by me and our community.  Now let's get to work!

03 November 2014

Fall into our State Parks

Versailles State Park, est. 1934
It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let the pictures do the talking in this post.  Fall at Indiana's state parks.  We owe quite a debt to our forefathers for setting aside these lands and establishing our state park system in 1916.

Potato Creek State Park, est. 1977
Kankakee State Fish & Wildlife Area, est. 1927
Tippecanoe River State Park, est. 1943

Brown County State Park, est. 1929
Clifty Falls State Park, est. 1920
Harmonie State Park, est. 1966